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Lawsuit Tests Online Liability for Dating App

Matthew Herrick is not your typical plaintiff in a sexual harassment case.

By and large, sexual harassment complaints usually involve workplace misconduct. But Herrick's case isn't the usual kind.

He is suing over a dating app that his former lover used to harass him. It has caught the attention of other companies because Herrick alleges the software developers unleashed a dangerous app upon the world.

Products Liability

Herrick sued under a products liability theory, but a trial judge threw out the complaint. Now the case is before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and that's what makes the case important.

It will test the reaches of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online service providers from liability for content posted by third parties. Judge Valerie Caproni said the act applies to Grindr.

"To the extent Herrick has identified a defect in Grindr's design or manufacture or a failure to warn, it is inextricably related to Grindr's role in editing or removing offensive content -- precisely the role for which Section 230 provides immunity," she wrote in Herrick v. Grindr.

If the appeals court reverses, it could change the way tech companies manage their platforms. Social media companies, like Facebook and Twitter, have the most to lose.

Social Media Liability

According to NBC News, the tech industry is pushing back in the case. The companies say Herrick is trying to skirt the protections of free speech online.

In the beginning, it was just about Herrick trying to get some peace. He alleged that his ex-boyfriend used the dating app to harass him for months.

The former partner allegedly created fake profiles on the app to impersonate Herrick, then directed men to show up at his home and workplace asking for sex. Herrick filed 14 police reports, saying sometimes more than a dozen men showed up in a day.

He eventually obtained a restraining order that required Grindr to disable the fake profiles. That's how it became a federal case.

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